The shops stand in a literal faceoff. Less than two blocks apart, Mike’s Pastry and Modern Pastry occupy opposite sides of Hanover Street. But the two North End staples are also in a long-standing battle for the title of Boston’s best cannoli. It’s said while Mike’s is the pastry destination for tourists and visitors, that Modern is the choice of the locals.
Mike’s is big and bright, full of display cases teeming with cookies, cakes and pies. Modern is notably smaller, but also full of displayed chocolates, pastries and tarts. On a Saturday night, both shops overflow with people. Customers spill out onto the sidewalks of the narrow street, patiently waiting in long lines for the coveted cannolis.
At the helm of the shop, Mike’s boasts a glass case full of cannolis that spans the length of the counter. But at Modern, there are only suggestions of the iconic cream-filled pastries, their hollow shells stacked on display. This is because at Mike’s, cannolis are assembled in the morning to prepare for an onslaught of customers. But at Modern, cannolis are hand-piped for each order. The fried tube meets its ricotta counterpart only seconds before reaching the customer.
I started at Mikes. The range in variety is mind-boggling; there are more than a dozen types of cannolis advertised, with options like peanut butter, chocolate mousse and limoncello. But frills and novelty aside, the best gauge for this competition lies within the plain ricotta cannoli. This classic is crutch-free, with no fancy flavorings or toppings. Just the shell and the ricotta; a true test of the recipe’s quality. One to go, please. In the name of research!
I noticed, first and foremost, the notable difference in size between the two pastries. Mike’s, though only 50 cents more expensive, is almost double the size of Modern’s Really, I weighed them – Modern’s cannoli rings in at 84 grams, while Mike’s weighs a hefty 141 grams. Both brim with sweet filling.
Mike’s ricotta mixture is denser, stiffer and sweeter than Modern’s. The filling is smooth, but a hint of the cheese’s texture remains. At Modern, the filling is fluid and silky smooth, and it’s just slightly less sugary than Mike’s, which allows the flavor of the ricotta to come through.
Both cannolis sat at room temperature for a few hours before I tried them. The shell from Mike’s retained a snappy crunch to the last bite. However, the delicate, flaky shell from Modern began to lose its crispness to the moisture of the ricotta filling. I’m guessing this happened because Mike’s cannolis are designed to sit at room temperature for several hours, since they’re piped in the morning, but Modern’s cannolis aren’t created for prolonged cream-to-shell contact.
All of these nuances – slight variation in crispness, sweetness and staying power – pair to make it seem like there are huge differences between the two. Truth be told, there’s not much difference between Mike’s and Modern’s cannolis. Both pastries are knock-your-socks-off delicious and when I say there is no bad choice here, I genuinely mean that.
But a competition is a competition and there must be a winner.
Based solely on taste, I lean more toward Modern. I like the taste differential, there’s no overpowering sugar-on-sugar effect.
All aspects taken into careful consideration, Mike’s takes the cake—err, I mean cannoli—for the portion to price ratio. For 50 cents more than Modern, you get nearly double the amount of pastry. I’m usually a quality over quantity kinda gal, but a cannoli from Mike’s is not, by any means, settling. And even if it can be a little too sweet sometimes, it’s a risk I’m willing to take.